07/31/05 — Farm family honored

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Farm family honored

By Renee Carey
Published in News on July 31, 2005 2:05 AM

WAYNE COUNTY -- Bryant Worley's father had a saying, "God needed a caretaker, so he made a farmer."

And five generations later, Bryant and his wife, Debbie, are still taking that message to heart ... and one step further.

The winners of the 2005 Outstanding Conservation Farm Family Award are protecting Bryant Worley Farms for their children and the generations who will follow.

The award is presented annually by the North Carolina Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts in recognition of conservation practices that include preventing soil erosion and maintaining water quality as well as mingling wildlife management with crop production.

The Worleys are the first family to be honored from Wayne County.

"Conserving natural resources is our way of giving back," Bryant told the crowd of more than 500 who gathered Friday to recognize the couple's achievement. "My father used to say that we don't inherit our land from our fathers. We just borrow it from our children."

In the Worley family, those children are working right alongside their mom and dad.

Brooke Norris and her husband, Kelvin, are part of that team, as are Carmen and Ben Thomas. Both daughters are expecting the next generation of Worley farmers. Brooke and Kelvin will welcome twin boys sometime in September, while Carmen and Ben are expecting their first child sometime in February.

"Not only are we growing corn and soybeans, but we are expecting a bumper crop of babies here at the farm," Debbie said.

Brooke said her early life on the farm has helped her throughout her 27 years.

"Without a doubt, growing up and working on this farm helped me learn values and work ethic," she said. "It got me to where I am today."

She works by day as a physician's assistant with Dr. John Jennings at the Goldsboro Skin Center. Her husband, however, is right there on the farm.

But after her day is done at the office, Brooke has her "work clothes" ready.

"I may be at work on Friday, but then on Saturday, I may be moving turkeys," she says with a proud smile. "I'm still involved with the farm."

She said her father is eagerly anticipating her latest production, however, the twins.

"My dad is thrilled," she said. "He had two girls, and with two boys on the way, he's getting excited."

Sister Carmen, 26, is also looking forward to the birth of a child. She is a teacher, as is her husband. They recently returned from Hungary where they worked with a Christian school.

"We were in Hungary when Mom and Dad won the award. It was the middle of the night when they called us, but it didn't matter," she said. "We were all so happy.

"Farming has always been part of our family; something we all share. And this is a real honor for all of us. I'm so happy for Mom and Dad."

But thinking about the next generation did not start with Bryant and Debbie.

Decades before, George Worley started the chain when he left each of his children a farm. One of those children was Bryant's grandfather, A.I. Worley.

Just recently, the Worleys found a copy of Bryant's grandfather's conservation plan, which was written in 1950.

"They did the best they could back then," Bryant said. "The plan includes a few surprising things."

Among those was a decision to use a plant to control erosion that farmers now know as a noxious weed. Planting kudzu also was prescribed.

Thinking about caring for the land continued into the next generation as well. Bryant also has a copy of his father's conservation plan, written 13 years later.

Bryant says he learned how to manage a productive farm while still caring for the land from his dad.

Today, the Worleys manage 1,500 acres. Major crops on the farm include cotton, soybeans, corn, hay and wheat. The farm also includes 300 acres of pasture and 300 acres of woodland. The Worleys also manage 90,000 turkeys and 14,000 hogs annually.

They say much of their acreage is rented from other farmers, and they took time Friday to thank the families who have entrusted their land to them.

"We consider it a privilege to take care of your farms," Bryant told those who attended the celebration.

There were plenty of dignitaries present to honor the Worleys. Secretary Bill Ross of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources offered his congratulations, as did N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler.

James Ferguson, who serves as chairman of the North Carolina Soil and Water Conservation Commission, said the Worleys' farm is a "textbook for soil and water conservation."

All of those present said one of the most impressive parts of the Worleys' efforts was that they are passing on the tradition of farming to their children and grandchildren, a rarity these days, when the average age of a North Carolina farmer is 56.7 years old.

The Worleys are not just preserving their land, the dignitaries said. They are helping save the tradition of family farming with their example.

Debbie said they did not do it alone. She said life on the farm has not always been easy. There were sacrifices along the way, and many, many people whose advice, assistance and support made it possible for her family to keep the farm going.

She remembered a critical time in 1984 when her first child was ready to start school. She and Bryant had to decide whether she would return to the mental health field or stay at home and help with the farm.

"Growing turkeys for Carolina Turkeys allowed me to keep working on the farm," she said.

She also credited other family members as well as longtime employees Leroy Davis and Kenneth Atkinson with helping make Bryant Worley Farms what it is today.

But there were many more sacrifices and rough times along the way, the Worleys said. They are the stories, they say, of any farm family.

And that is who the Worleys want Wayne County to be proud of when they hear about their farm's award -- all the families who struggle, sacrifice and succeed to keep their farms going.

"This celebration is not about me and Debbie," Bryant said. "It is about all of us who are conserving resources for the next generation."

And that means farmers from Wayne County and across North Carolina. Bryant and Debbie say there are many farmers who are very conscious of what shape they will leave their land and work hard to put in the extra effort necessary to conserve.

"I can't think of a better way to honor God than to honor his creation," Bryant said.

But even though they will claim the honor for the Worley family, Bryant and Debbie say they will share it with those who came before them, and keep it in trust for those who will come later.

"We think Bryant's father and grandfather would be proud of what we have done," Debbie said.

-- Sports Editor Steve Roush assisted with this report.